This defense knows what it’s up against, and each and every one of the players understands that to beat the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles must have a good game against running back Ezekiel Elliott. In the four games he’s played against the Eagles in his three NFL seasons, Elliott is 4-0 and is averaging 4.82 yards per carry and 30.3 touches per contest.
So, the task is a significant one for the defense, a unit that ranks second in the league (72.8 yards per game) against the run, on Sunday night. The Eagles' defensive players provided a scouting report on No. 21, who is sixth in the league this season with 491 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 yards per tote.
What makes Ezekiel Elliott so great?
“I think it’s his ability to get stronger as the game goes on,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He’s already a big, physical back going downhill. Rarely is he falling sideways or backwards. He’s always falling forward, and I think those 2-, 3-yard runs early in a game become 5- and 6-yard gains later in the game because he’s running just as hard then.
"He gets to the secondary and he might punish the defensive back; he might jump over the DB. He runs behind an offensive line that does a good job of getting guys out of their gaps and just kind of wearing you down. I think it’s his consistency being physical, and wearing you down and hitting the hole with speed makes it hard for you to get him down, and then, later in the game, he’s still bringing it just as hard.”
“Low center of gravity, somebody who will try to run you over, somebody who will always try to find a way to fall forward,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “I think, for him, you gotta get him before he starts going. He’s going off emotion, how he’s doing in the game. We have to make sure we rally to him, because one guy alone isn’t going to get him down.”
“It starts with No. 21,” linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said. “He’s one of the best backs in the league. We have to shut him down before we can do anything else. It’s going to be a physical game. Everyone knows how physical this game, especially this rivalry, is. It starts in the trenches, for sure.”
“He’s a physical, downhill runner. Good size. Good speed. I think that would make anyone a good runner when you start there,” safety Andrew Sendejo said.
“Durable back, good balance, patient. Runs with his shoulders forward,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “He knows how to use his body well. He’s just a consistent runner, man. I think that’s what really makes him a good player. He’s got some leaping ability, too, so you have to watch that in the open field.”
Elliott’s numbers have been down during this Dallas three-game losing streak – he had 18 carries and 35 carries in a loss to New Orleans, 12 carries and 62 yards in a loss to Green Bay, and 105 yards on 28 carries in last week’s loss at the Jets. Elliott still scored a touchdown in each game and helped in the passing game with 13 receptions in the three games. While Elliott isn’t known to be an explosive receiver running all the routes down the field, he’s a good pass catcher in the checkdown game who will keep the chains moving.
In other words, the Eagles have to know that Dallas will get him the football and that he will do damage when he has the ball in his hands. In the teams’ last meeting, in December of 2018, Elliott had 28 rushing attempts for 113 yards and another 12 receptions for 79 yards – a total of 40 touches and 192 yards from scrimmage.
“He's a good player,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “I know one thing's for sure, we gotta tackle. We gotta get him on the ground. He makes really good decisions when he's hitting the hole, when he's running the football and finding guys out of their gaps. He does a real good job of that. Respectfully, he's not going to do it by himself. He's got a really good group in front of him, a group of offensive linemen he's been with for a while. It's going to be challenging.”
Two weeks ago, it was Le’Veon Bell, who had little help around him in the Jets' offense. Last Sunday, it was Dalvin Cook in Minnesota, and while the Eagles did a good job on Cook, the rest of the Vikings' offense had plenty of success. This week, it’s Elliott, and Cox knows it’s going to take the entire village to win the battle.
"At the end of the day, I think it's going to come down to us 11 guys getting to the football and getting him on the ground,” Cox said. “I think for us it's every week, we've got to stop the run. We got to be physical up front, trying to make teams one-dimensional. For a D-lineman, we take so much pride in that. If they get the ball running, it's going to be a long night for us, so for us, we've got to create negative plays on first and second down. That way, we can get after the quarterback.”